Opinion | ‘Trump Is Now a Felon, and That Will Matter’: 7 Writers on the Guilty Verdict

Welcome to Opinion’s coverage of the guilty verdict in the Manhattan trial of Donald Trump. In this special feature, Times Opinion writers reflect on this extraordinary development in American political history, on the moments and the dynamics that mattered most in the trial — and tease out its potential impact on the presidential election.

Jamelle Bouie I am no lawyer and did not follow every in and out of the trial, but if there was a single thing that doomed Donald Trump — or at least, if there was a single thing that harmed his effort to escape a guilty verdict — it was his total contempt for the process and the proceedings. It is hard to imagine that he was helped, in any way, by his constant attacks on judge, jury and the trial itself. The jury, obviously, is asked only to evaluate the evidence before it, and yet, it is asking a lot of anyone to sit and ignore the fact that the defendant has, publicly, turned you into an enemy.

Matthew Continetti What mattered was that this case was brought at all. When Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, indicted Trump in April 2023, he not only established the dangerous precedent that local officials can bring criminal charges against former presidents, he annexed the 2024 presidential campaign to the legal system, with unknown and potentially hazardous consequences. Bragg’s actions undermined confidence in the rule of law and rallied G.O.P. voters to Trump, helping him win a third consecutive Republican nomination. Bragg didn’t defeat Trumpism. He revived it.

David French The prosecution had a compelling story to tell. Trump did not want Stormy Daniels to go public right after the “Access Hollywood” tape with evidence that would demonstrate that he does, in fact, believe that his celebrity entitled him to do what he wanted with women. And when Trump concealed the nature of the payments, the prosecution could easily make the case — at least to a jury — that he must have known that the payments were legally problematic. Trial outcomes are often dictated by the side that can create the most coherent narrative, and the prosecution’s theory of the case was easy for the jury to grasp.

Michelle Goldberg The mountain of evidence! Though the discourse around the trial was all about the wisdom of Bragg bringing charges in the first place, the question in court was more straightforward — did Trump do what he was accused of? The prosecution showed that he did. Trump’s defense, meanwhile, made the ludicrous argument that he never had sex with Stormy Daniels, and that the $420,000 paid to Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen — which was part of the reason he went to prison — was a legitimate legal fee. It would have been shocking if the jury had bought it.

Quinta Jurecic There’s no way to know what led the jurors to reach the verdict they did. But throughout the trial, I was struck by the insistence of Trump’s lawyers on pursuing arguments or lines of questioning that seemed unhelpful to their case. Todd Blanche, for example, insisted repeatedly that Trump had never slept with Stormy Daniels, even though this denial boxed Trump into a weaker argument. These tactics by the defense seemed designed to placate Trump’s own vanity and sense of grievance — but even if they made the client happy, it’s hard to imagine they helped his case with the jury.

Daniel McCarthy The dizzying number of the charges and the virtual absence of any dispute about the fact at the core of the case meant the prosecution only had to get the jury to doubt Trump’s motives. Judge Juan Merchan’s instructions were broad enough that the jury had many opportunities to find Trump guilty, and they did.

Kristen Soltis Anderson Focusing on winning the political battle and the communications battle when facing legal trouble only gets you so far. The law doesn’t necessarily care about public opinion.

Bouie I do not know if the guilty verdict will matter significantly for the 2024 presidential election, although it is fair to say that no presidential candidate wants to be a felon. If anything, I suspect that Trump’s conviction will be part of a background radiation of scandal that could weaken him beyond repair. One thing I do know, however, is that the guilty verdict is yet another instance of a fundamental truth of the Trump era: It has not been the institutions or the guardrails that have restrained the former president, it’s been ordinary American citizens who, when given the opportunity, have not hesitated to hold him accountable.

Continetti By November, we will be talking about something else. If we know one thing about Trump, it is that he is an expert at changing the subject. More important, despite President Biden’s efforts to shift the focus of the campaign to Trump’s rhetoric and conduct, the 2024 election is not about the former president. It is about the incumbent’s performance in office. The electorate will decide Biden’s fate based on its perceptions of the economy, the southern border and America’s global standing. A guilty verdict won’t lower prices, reduce border crossings or make the world a safer place.

French Yes, it will have an impact. Biden’s main weakness is with disconnected voters, and if there is one single news item that can break through with even the most apathetic citizens, it’s the headline “Trump Guilty on All Counts.” MAGA will redouble its support for Trump, of course, and some disconnected voters may well believe that the prosecution was political, but Trump is now a felon, and that will matter. Don’t expect anything like a dam break in public opinion that washes Trump away, but this will erode his support, and in a close election every bit of erosion matters.

Goldberg I’d guess a small one. A recent New York Times/Siena poll of swing state voters showed that a majority didn’t expect a conviction, so some might be jarred by it. Trump loyalists will easily rationalize casting ballots for a felon, but if this election is as close as the last two, even small shifts among wavering voters could be significant.

Jurecic Trump has a firm base of supporters who may be galvanized by his conviction. But they are not enough to win him the election on their own. His fate, instead, will rest with the voters whose support for him is less passionately held — people who might otherwise vote Republican but are put off by Trump’s boorishness. This verdict emphasizes all the aspects of Trump that those voters might find off-putting: Trump’s erratic behavior, his constant scandals. If this conviction harms Trump, it will likely be because a small but significant number of people in swing states simply couldn’t bring themselves to pull the lever for a felon.

McCarthy By outraging Trump’s supporters, the verdict will strengthen him, and voters who harbor doubts about the justice system may see him as more sympathetic as a result of this. He’s all the more an outsider and rebel now. The penalties may hamper Trump’s campaigning, but I expect the race will remain competitive, and become even more intense.

Soltis Anderson It may only matter at the margins. Voters who strongly dislike Trump will be thrilled with the verdict, but it won’t change things; they were never going to vote for him anyway. Voters who like him will not be surprised by a guilty verdict, because they have generally viewed the trial as political from the start. I believe the sentencing will play a bigger role in influencing the small group of persuadable voters, as Americans are forced to choose whether to vote for someone who could be facing prison time.

Jamelle Bouie, David French and Michelle Goldberg are Times columnists.

Matthew Continetti is the author of “The Right: The Hundred Year War for American Conservatism.”

Quinta Jurecic is a contributing writer at The Atlantic, a fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution and a senior editor at Lawfare.

Daniel McCarthy is the editor of Modern Age: A Conservative Review.

Kristen Soltis Anderson is a contributing Opinion writer for The New York Times. She is a Republican pollster and a speaker, a commentator and the author of “The Selfie Vote: Where Millennials Are Leading America (and How Republicans Can Keep Up).”

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